South Asia pushing global infections to 15m a day, says US report

Published April 28, 2021
In this file photo, a Covid-19 patient sits inside a car and breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara in New Delhi. — AP
In this file photo, a Covid-19 patient sits inside a car and breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara in New Delhi. — AP

WASHINGTON: An unprecedented upsurge in Covid-19 infections in South Asia could push global infections to 15 million a day by mid-May, says an American health institute which correctly projected Covid deaths and infections in the United States last year.

“Our latest projections show that the number of infections driven by the surge in India — and perhaps also driven by the surges in Bangladesh and Pakistan — will be reaching 15 million a day globally,” the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME) said in its latest report on the pandemic and its impact.

Based on IHME’s current projection, infections in Pakistan may peak to 240,000 by Aug. 1 while the death toll could rise to 28,549.

Of these, 5,639 Covid-19 deaths could occur in Sindh, 12,460 in Punjab, 6,978 KP, 796 in Balochistan, 115 in Gilgit-Baltistan, 1,088 in AJK and 1,473 in the Islamabad capital territory.

In July 2020, the institute projected that Covid-19 deaths in the United States could exceed 200,000 by November 2020. The projection was strongly rejected by the Trump administration, which claimed that it could contain the death toll to below 100,000.

But the forecast proved right and now the US death toll has exceeded 572,000 while infections have climbed to more than 32 million, the highest in the world.

In its latest report, released this week, the institute described South Asia as a global hotspot, warning that both infections and death tolls in the region would continue to rise before stabilising by mid-May.

According to this projection, the daily death toll in India could continue climbing until mid-May, peaking at 13,000 a day — more than four times the current daily death toll.

The institute’s analysis shows that the pandemic would continue to have “an extraordinary surge in India and other parts of South Asia” by mid-May.

“The exponential rise in cases and deaths continues in India, and our analysis of seroprevalence surveys, is telling us that the infection detection rate is below 5 percent — maybe even around 3-4 percent,” IHME reported.

“This means that the number of cases that are being detected needs to be multiplied by 20 or more to get the number of infections that are occurring in India. The number of infections right now is extraordinarily large.

There are more infections happening in India than what occurred globally two weeks ago,” the report added.

“This huge epidemic is likely to continue at least into the second week of May, but given the extraordinary volume of infections in India, Covid-19 may run out of people to infect soon,” the institute projected. “Our models are suggesting that transmission may start to decline in India as we get into the latter half of May.”

The report noted that the surge in India was now spreading to Nepal.

Commenting on official statistics provided by regional governments, IHME noted that cases elsewhere in South Asia had peaked and started to come down — particularly in Bangladesh.

“But we think that might be a reporting artifact from the Ramadan period, where fewer people may be seeking to be tested, and/or there may be lags in the data,” the report added.

“So, we’ll watch very closely the trends in Bangladesh and Pakistan.”

A CNN report, based on the data provided by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, New Delhi, with more than 17.6 million cases, India is now “home to the world’s worst ongoing coronavirus outbreak.”

The report claimed that the real infections could be up to 30 times higher — about half a billion.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2021

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